AOLTV - tip of iceberg for Liberate

Liberate Technology, the software maker for the online giant's TV service, hopes to ride a coming tech tidal wave in interactive appliances

Amid all the fanfare surrounding AOLTV's launch, Liberate Technology, which owns the software that is driving the interactive television service, got lost in the shuffle.

But if plans unfold according to schedule, Liberate Technology won't remain in the background for long. The company's ambitions extend to bringing interactivity to information appliances.

The idea is to provide client-server software for all sorts of information appliances. It's a potentially sweet opportunity because high volumes and low cost characterize this still nascent business.

"The next explosion for devices is information appliances. Consumers are looking for a specific single-purpose, single form-factor device," said Liberate Technology's CEO Mitchell Kertzman.

Indeed, Kertzman and other company officials believe the coming intersection of television and appliances is only a matter of time. In Europe interactive cell phones and set-top boxes have become very popular.

Indeed, Liberate Technology's senior vice president David Limp believes these will be the next two appliances to make a big splash on US shores.

Since cell phones don't have the bandwidth to support interactivity yet, TVs were the most logical appliance to go after. Limp expects that devices will need at least 128Kbps for interactivity.

In addition, there are signs indicating that TV is going digital and that users will need a box to tune it. One example is digital TV, which is still far off from mainstream acceptance. Eventually, the appliance will integrate the set-top box.

The software on the client side is called Liberate TV Navigator and on the server side its Liberate TV Platform.

While there have been other attempts at interactive TV that haven't been as successful was as anticipated, such as Microsoft's WebTV, the difference in this case may be the partnership with AOL.

In partnering with AOL on interactive TV, Liberate Technology is eyeing some juicy numbers: 23 million subscribers and over one billion TVs that can be retrofitted with set-top boxes for interactive TV.

Commerce will also play into enhancing the AOLTV offering, as users will be able to buy a product or service on the spot when they see it on a commercial. Kertzman said that advertisers will have to change commercials to be more interactive in order to prevent viewers from ignoring them.

Limp boldly predicted that in five years, well over 50 percent of households will have interactivity on TV and most broadcasts will have interactive content.

We'll have to tune in and see if he's right.

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